Thursday, October 20, 2011

A First for Christmas

I don't mean to freak you out and made you think of Christmas before you're ready, but I've always found that the more thoughtful I can be about it ahead of time, the more meaningful it is come Advent and Christmas Day itself.  Bear with me, please.  I need your help.

For the first time in our married lives (of 14 years), we will be spending Christmas at home.  During those first 13 years, getting away to spend the holidays with both our families who live out of state (but in the same state) was easy.

The first 6 years we were married, it was a cinch to take off the time we wanted over Christmas- usually about a week.  My job was flexible and Jamey's workplace almost shut down over the holidays.  Then, the past four years came along with Jamey back in school.  Things got even cushier time-off-wise because he was on a university schedule and got a whole month off from mid-Decmeber to mid-January each year.  We could pack the kids up and go mooch off relatives for as long as we'd like.  I sure hope they didn't see it as mooching, though.

Now, we're back in the real world.  And, actually, working at a hospital may make things a little more real because it never closes down.  Not for weekends, holidays, not even during the night.  We've grown used to his varied schedule pretty well.  His shifts change daily, so we each take a look at the calendar each night to see what the next day will bring.  We've gotten used to it and we're over-the-moon thankful to God that he even has a job, that it's in a hospital (his first choice) and that we didn't have to move to take it.

Back to the holidays.  On one hand, I'm kind of excited to have Christmas at home with my little family.  In the past, our kids have always opened their presents three or four days before Christmas, before we started traveling.  This year, they'll be able to wake up in the morning and run downstairs to open their gifts, spend most of the day in the PJs and we'll all be together, just us.

But.  Knowing myself, I also know that when the actual day comes, I will think of our families all gathered together without us and it will make me a little sad.  What I hope to do is create some special little traditions (this is bound to happen in some future years as well), that will help us all see being home for Christmas as really special, too.

I've had a few ideas so far.

One, we'll get to go to Christmas Eve service at a church.  When we're out of town, there this didn't always fit in to the family plans, but I think it's such an important reminder of why we're celebrating in the first place.  It's hard enough for adults to keep that front and center during the holidays.  For kids, it's even harder with all those presents distracting them.

Idea two came from a commenter a little while back (I'm so sorry, I don't remember your name) who mentioned that they bake Christmas cookies leading up to Christmas, but don't eat any until Christmas day and then let everyone eat to their hearts content.  I ran this idea past the kids and they loved it, so this one we're going to try.

The other simple thought I had was to go all out and splurge on fruit.  We don't buy fruit out of season, so this would be a very special treat for all of us- a big plate pineapple, grapes, Sam even asked for Kiwi.  He must have been two the last time he had kiwi, but he remembers it evidently.

We also plan on checking in with neighbors to see who we can invite to a Christmas dinner who may not have plans for one.

Even with these ideas, I would love your help.  What traditions does your family keep that makes your Christmas day special that I might also glean from?  I'd love to hear. Pin It

33 comments:

  1. One thing we always did growing up was to open 1 and only 1 of our Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve about an hour before bedtime. My parents would pick which one. Silly as it sounds but that was one of my favorite things about Christmas at home. It built the excitement for the next day.

    Another tradition we had and actually still do to this day (we live in the same town as my parents) We make hot cocoa, load up in the van and drive around town looking at Christmas light displays.

    I love your idea for the fruit. I may have to steal that one. I usually stick to just the in season local fruit too.

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  2. We've had the same situation...two families out of town and long holiday trips. To be honest, it's the Christmas at MY house that I want the most. It's what I remember growing up and it's what I want my kids to remember. We've been home a few times since the girls were born. One tradition we have started is every year we give the girls a Christmas ornament symbolic of that year. Like a sport they were involved in, a favorite book character, or a Phil's ornament if they happened to win the world series :) Also every Christmas morning we eat sticky buns and hot chocolate for breakfast. We put candles on the sticky buns and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus bc I think that pretty much is the easiest way to get a small child to understand what's happening :)
    Bec

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  3. We do a treasure hunt for baby Jesus. The kid who finds it gets to hand out presents. (Like the wisemen.) We also want to start the tradition of making smores in the fireplace now that the kids are old enough to not get marshmallow everywhere.

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  4. I love Christmas traditions. We have several that our kids love (6yo, 4yo and almost 1). 1. we have lots of advent calendars, so everyone can move something everyday--one has ornaments to put on a tree, and one has scripture to read each day, and one has a "holiday activity" for each day. Also on Christmas eve we all get a new pair of PJs (that I make) and we sleep on the floor around the tree, then when we wake up to open gifts we're all wearing our new pjs.
    Monica

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  5. I am right with you on trying to create special traditions and memories for my kids to carry or remember fondly. Thankfully, we celebrate Christmas with my family on Christmas Eve and have adopted the tradition of eating pizza...on paper plates so no one has to do massive clean up!! We open presents with my kids on Christmas Day after a breakfast of cinnamon and orange rolls. We hang out in our jammies all day! Nothing glamorous, like in the movies, but special to us.

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  6. We don't have television service in our home, but we do watch movies if we find a good one that is family friendly and has a good message. We've begun a tradition of buying a new movie, wrapping it, and leaving it under the tree until Christmas Eve. The kids unwrap it and we watch it that night before going to bed. If it is a Christmas related movie that makes it even better. A movie that reminds us why we celebrate Christmas, some popcorn, and some of those cookies you talked about would be a great way to end Christmas Eve. You wouldn't have to buy a new movie each year. You might get a new one every couple of years. Sometimes having a special movie or two you watch only on Christmas Eve is a treat too.

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  7. Christmas day is spent at home for us too, just immediate family. Christmas breakfast is a egg/bread based casserole that gets prepped the day before so all I do is pop it in the oven during our opening presents time on Christmas morning. We like a variation of Paula Deans french toast casserole, yummy. This makes for a very relaxed and stress free time of gift opening. Also this might sound silly but in our house opening the stocking's is a big deal. Sometime during Christmas Eve we fill each other's stocking with small silly gifts, even candy things we either bought or made that no one else knows about. It's a time mostly of laughter as we dump out our stockings and see what each of us bought/made the other's. I've put small dolls, trucks, chap stick, nail clipper's, chinese ear cleaning picks, sippy cups and colorful socks in years past. Christmas day it is acceptable to stay in your pj's all day if you like as well. Robin in SoCal

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  8. Christmas Eve service at our church - often clam chowder for supper

    special Christmas breakfast of eggnog, fruit, and buttered toast;

    bake gingerbread men together sometime in December (I have a perfect recipe for kids on my blog - doesn't suffer from rerolling and handling: http://thriftathome.blogspot.com/2009/12/best-cookies-for-children.html)

    Christmas caroling from the front porch on our busy street

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  9. I think these sound like awesome ideas. Here are a few of our random traditions.

    SInce I was a kid, we eat tacos for Christmas Eve lunch. I have no idea how it started, but my mom pulls out their wedding china and we eat tacos. It's so fun!

    Another tradition we have is playing games after gifts with my husband's family. It's something we all have fun with. Usually, we each bring a game and we do a bit of a game marathon.

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  10. Growing up my husband's family always had pizza on Christmas eve. For a number of years we lived FAR away from all family (over 4000 miles) it was during that time that we started our family traditions... 1) the nativity is set up as a gradual process... a. the stable is set up with the animals and the shepherds were out in the pasture with the sheep, b. mary and joseph began their journey, c. christmas eve mary & joseph are put in the stable d. the wisemen are afar off e. after the boys went to bed we put baby Jesus in the manger. The wisemen remainder afar off until later on Christmas day or even a couple of days after.
    Christmas night we would watch a movie which we only watch on Christmas. And we all open 1 Christmas present on Christmas eve. Enjoy!

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  11. Last year was our first year to stay home and it was wonderful! There was a bit of sadness in not being with parents but it was so relaxed at home. The first gift we opened was the nativity story out of Luke. I tried to wrap it to be the prettiest and we made the point that this was the best gift of all. My son loved it! We read the story and it really set the tone for the rest of the day. We are definitely doing this again this year!

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  12. We always had (still have) an Advent calendar on the refrigerator when our daughter was growing up and I never knew how much it meant to her until she expressed it to us when she was an adult.

    During her childhood we lived truly out in the boonies with very few people nearby. So once before Christmas we would get into a vehicle and drive to town to make a tour of all the decorated homes, slowly driving up and down each street in our small town.

    Early in October, people from all over our county start rehearsing for a production of the "Messiah" directed by a retired college music director. This is performed in the biggest church in town in the first part of December. We always had friends to our house for a dinner before hand and then we all caravaned into town for the production. When all our kids were small, they would fall asleep in their parents' arms or toppled over on the pew about halfway through the program.

    All of the things you've already suggested sound wonderful. You don't have to spend a lot of money (hardly any at all) on family Christmas traditions at home. Because they are so intertwined with their home, your kids will remember them forever.

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  13. i think he should quit his job and you should go to PA for christmas again this year! i'm just sayin...

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  14. I love what Peggy said about doing the manger gradually! Our girls are 2 and 10 months and I was in the hospital having number 2 last year so I am really excited to get the traditions rolling this year!

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  15. This isn't exactly about a Christmas tradition, but... you can grow kiwis! (well, not for the holidays) Check out Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA. They've got hardy ones. Also figs. And even small banana trees for a sunny room.

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  16. Growing up my family's Christmas (just the folks and us kids) was always celebrated with gifts and a casual dinner on Christmas Eve night after reading the Christmas Story from the Bible. Mom & Dad wisely went against the norm, doing this knowing that someday their 5 daughters would grow up and have families and in-laws all wanting to celebrate Christmas Day; so their idea was to start the holiday off at their house. It still works out well, because even the grandkids & great grandkids know that on Christmas Eve all of the cousins, aunts and uncles can be seen together. Because a few of the grands now live far away, those of the original 5 are able to pack a picnic lunch and leave very early on Christmas morning to see them that evening, allowing for them to have their own family time in the morning. One of my sisters started doing Thanksgiving for her kids on the Saturday after T-Day when they were kids for the same reason.

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  17. We usually make plates of dessert, or pies to deliver on Christmas Day to people who may be alone or have less family visiting them. We also go out to my husband's work, where boys temporarily live who have gotten in trouble for various reasons. Many of them don't have even one parent who cares. We take legos and magnetix and treats and visit a while.

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  18. When it comes to opening presents from absent family members, we really try to take it slow, and appreciate that these gifts are acts of love, not just stuff. We'll each open our gift from X, and then call them, to thank them, and have each of us spend a moment with that person, even if we can't be together. Opening gifts takes ages, but the pressure is off to tear open everything under the tree, and I feel it really keeps us focused on why the presents are there in the first place.

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  19. I always made sure each child got an ornament for Christmas. Then when they moved out, their ornaments went with them so they had them for their own tree. Each ornament was individual for each kid.
    Adele

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  20. I don't remember where I read it but somewhere on the internet I found the idea of unwrapping and reading a Christmas book every night in December, starting on the 1st, en ending on Christmas. I have been scouring garage and yard sales, looking for Christmas books and have quite the stash now. I am really looking forward to seeing that pile under the tree come December 1.

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  21. We're in a similar situation. Being military, we've lived away from family the past 14 years so have only spent a handful of Christmases with family.

    Some of our traditions include Christmas Eve church, eating cookies and other baked goods for Christmas morning breakfast, and some years, making a soup supper and inviting another family staying home that year over to play board games in the evening.

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  22. We always read the Christmas story in Luke and let the kids act it out. We have a few other Christmas stories we read, and we sing lots of carols. Singing together is such a great memory. We eat lots of yummy treats and drink eggnog and then let the kids open one present each (usually pjs). The kids also sprinkle reindeer food on the lawn (oatmeal mixed with glitter) to help the reindeer find their way to our house. Christmas morning always starts way too early, but we open presents one at a time and savor the present and lovingly thank the giver. Good luck building your own traditions. I have found that the simple things are the ones the kids like best.

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  23. Christmas caroling in our town and to neighbors was a delight to our family. We also took a simple gift of cookies or fruit to someone in need. Our children are grown and have families who continue to enjoy singing and giving.

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  24. Our favorite tradition is on Christmas eve we have what we call a "Bethlehem dinner" - basically we make food that may have been eaten back in Jesus' day. Such as . .. homemade flat bread, goat cheese, olives, dates, grape juice, smoked fish, to name a few. We eat on the floor by our fire place and talk about Jesus and his life. Then we read the Christmas story in Luke 2 and sing some carols and off to bed we go. It is a wonderful tradition and something our children look forward to probably more than anything else.

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  25. Hi! That is a nice surprise, seeing my comment/advice back in your posting. We do indeed save all cookies up to Christmas during Advent. If you choose to do this, you have to be pretty careful with your planning because you'll want to bake them in the right order. Cookies rich in butter in the last week, Cookies that need to soften in the first week, and egg-based cookies in between.
    It has been going on for at least a century now in our family, and it is common practice in the South of Germany where my mother came from. The tradition was a way of stretching resources to make Christmas even more special at a time when people did not live with the abundance the Western world has known for the past 50 years.
    Oh, and on making the day special: my children actually like Christmas best even though we celebrate without presents. Those are given on Dec, 5th, our Dutch Sinterklaas holiday. So Christmas is just about spiritual matters. Actually, my boys were talking about it today how they prefer the holiday without presents, because it is all about togetherness and the deeper religious meaning. They are aged 9 and 6. I would encourage you to emphasize being together just the 5 of you. I am sure it will be pretty special! We too made the transition from big family affairs to a small and private day, and I can imagine that you feel like you're losing something. But let me tell you, new traditions grow fast, especially with children this age all it takes is one or two years and they will deem whatever you've come up with as really special and appropriate!
    To us, Christmas Eve is the most important moment. We have a meal, usually with one or two strangers that have no place to go, or with a single friend and my fresh-widowed father, then we light the candles in the tree and the cookie jars are opened. We make music in the candle light and I read a story. Last year it was the wonderful Christmas story "the Holy night" by Selma Lagerlöf. Do you know it? I read it to my mother last year, and it is just breath taking:
    Then grandmother laid her hand on my head, and said: "You must remember this, for it is as true, as true as that I see you and you see me. It is not revealed by the light of lamps or candles, and it does not depend upon sun and moon; but that which is needful is, that we have such eyes as can see God's glory."
    Sorry for the long posting and a very very happy Christmas to you!

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  26. I think we have had a majority of all the above-I loved the most was walking to midnight mass on Christmas eve,especially if it snowed . a couple of years we acted out the night before Christmas and with such a large family we had a lot of squabbles about who would be baby Jesus and we would have a over load of shepherds lol

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  27. We would always have red and green pancakes on christmas morning... then we would do devotions by the tree....

    BUT THEN....

    My family always loved having stocking stuffers.... and every year we all would get some kind of fun dollar store foam gun. The kind with little round (harmless) balls or foam disks or arrows..... then we had a truce till we were done with the gifts. But then suddenly someone would remember and break the truce with a single shot towards the end.

    Then it was all out war all over the main level of the house! Usually girls against boys (Even mom and dad would get in on it! Everybody would be tucked behind furniture and it would just turned into such a fun time of trying to get all the ammo vs. trying get your cheap ratty guns to work!

    Big time family chaos and really fun memories!

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  28. Growing up on a farm, we always had to do our barn chores first before opening presents, or, when we were really little, wait for my dad to get back from the barn. Then we would open all our gifts and have a big breakfast. My favorite part of Christmas was that after breakfast, we would get our stockings and take turns, each opening one gift until the stockings were empty. Usually one of us would get a movie for Christmas and we would watch that in the afternoon when we got back from dinner at my grandparents' house.

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  29. Everone's posts have made me cry :). Our tradition growing up was to open one present at a time. So we could watch what each other got. We have a family dinner on Christmas Eve where we eat Poulty. It's a Sweedisih Potato dish that my great grandma passed down. I'll definitely be adopting some of the suggested traditions this year. Thanks for passing on the Christmas spirit so early!

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  30. Sorry if I'm a bit late coming to this post but I wanted to share too! Christmas eve, after church, my mom's side of the family goes to my aunt's house for light snacks and presents for the younger kids, and my dad (the acting patriarch) reads Luke 2 from a scroll. Then Christmas day, we go to my grandma's house for brunch and we "set a spell" and talk, then over to my uncle's house for more "setting", cards, and Christmas dinner. We love it!

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  31. I am late posting too but I wanted to comment! We used to travel at Christmas too and then started staying at home as our kids got older and they LOVED it! We also were worried it would be a little sad but it totally wasn't! Starting at the beginning of December we get out the nativity set. Mary and Joseph are moved around the house because they are on their "journey". They may end up on a window ledge in someone's room, or a shelf in the bathroom, or in the refrigerator one year! (We do explain the true story of Jesus' birth). Every day the kids can't wait to look for Mary and "Jofuf" - little language...Christmas Eve M&J are with the Nativity set, and Christmas morning, there is baby Jesus! Then we sing Happy Birthday before we even go to see the presents. We also put out reindeer food on Christmas eve (oats tossed in the snow) and have cinnamon buns on Christmas morn. The kids always get new games for Christmas and we play them all day long! My oldest is 14 and she still LOVES our traditions. Love your blog and your spirit! Karen

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  32. I'm late posting, but we've created a few Christmas traditions in the past few years for just our family as well so I thought I'd share. Every Christmas Eve, we each open just one present, which is new pajamas and a book, wrapped together. Then we have fondue for supper. It's messy, and a bit of prep work, but the kids absolutely love it, and it's the one day of the year that I break out the fondue set that someone gave us as a wedding gift. After supper we get into our new pajamas, and sit around the lit tree reading our new books. Before bed we read the Christmas story from Luke 2. Then it's off to bed for the kiddos! Christmas morning my hubby always makes his awesome French toast after the present-opening hubbub has died down a bit. We stay in our pajamas all morning and then have our big Christmas dinner, sometimes with a few relatives present, mid afternoon. In the evening we watch old Christmas movies. It sounds simple but the kids can now predict what's coming next, and I love that we're creating special memories and tradtions. Good luck, and whatever your traditions become, have a blessed Christmas!

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  33. Our family "schedules" lots of fun activities during the month of December. First, we observe advent. We read Christmas books most nights in December. For the last several years we've made Christmas candy with one other family one night in December. It can't be the same family every year and we supply the ingredients so it is a fun night where we make our own and gift half of it to our guest family too. There is much deliberation among the kids about who needs to be invited to candy night! One night we have the grandchildren over and help them make graham cracker houses (My own kids at home range from 20 years to 4 years) so that is a very busy night and not too intimidating since the houses are small. They are like small works of edible art and grow more amazing each year. We also love to carol (at least some of us:) and we schedule time to babysit for families with small children whose parents need to prepare without littles. We love the Christmas Eve service and of course all these things didn't happen overnight....

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